Leaving Afghanistan before the job is done

It’s hardly a surprise that President Obama wants to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. It is, however, rather shocking to find out the timetable for a withdrawal has been moved up at a blistering pace.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Obama is planning to “speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.” This shift from a combat to a support mission could reportedly occur as early as mid-2013. It remains to be seen whether the United States will either maintain a small military presence after 2014, or shift to a “zero-option” with no troops whatsoever.

As the president told the newspaper, “Because of the progress that’s been made by our troops, because of the progress that’s been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.” He also mentioned the “reason we went to war in the first place is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country.”

If a much earlier-than-expected troop withdrawal from Afghanistan comes to fruition, Mr. Obama could be taking a huge risk.

First, he would be leaving Afghanistan long before the job is done. Certainly, the United States has been in that country for 12 years, and the lives of many brave young men and women in uniform have been lost. The Department of Defense lists the current number of casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom at 2,045, though some independent groups have slightly higher counts. Yet, while Afghan security forces continue to improve, they are hardly in a position to assume a leadership role anytime soon. Hence, a shift to a support position in 2013 or 2014 would be wishful thinking by the White House.

Second, Mr. Obama would be leaving a volatile part of the world vulnerable to possible attacks from rival groups, tribes and political opponents to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If the United States ultimately chooses a zero-option, it could embolden extremists and radical groups to make a real push for supreme power. While Mr. Obama deserves credit for giving the green light to the U.S. Navy SEAL attack that killed al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the threat of terrorism is still strong in that region. The lack of a U.S. presence in Afghanistan could increase this threat multifold.

Then again, should anyone really be surprised by Mr. Obama’s naivete when it comes to maintaining wars and defending democracy? Since he was elected in 2008, he has been fighting what basically amounts to a nonwar against terrorism. In fact, the term “war on terror” doesn’t exist anymore. It was replaced with “overseas contingency operation,” which is an ivory tower-inspired travesty.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to be concerned about the growing threat of radical Islam in Europe and elsewhere. On the contrary, he has trumpeted in the past that “strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries.” In other words, he’s happy to maintain the lines of communication with tyrannical regimes and rogue states that would like nothing better than to destroy the United States and its way of life.

This is a far cry from America’s once-important role in defending democracy, liberty and freedom. Before Mr. Obama arrived on the scene, most Republican and Democratic presidents recognized that the United States needed to keep its citizens safe and its borders secure at all costs. Diverse leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also understood that working with and protecting other Western democracies was just as important to help maintain and preserve American values.

To be sure, military intervention isn’t a popular topic of discussion in the United States these days. There is a steadily growing push toward isolation. People are more worried about domestic issues such as taxes and the economy, and are less concerned about foreign policy and tensions in other countries.

Sadly, it’s just not that simple. Economic matters are extremely important, but the safety and security of the United States — and of all liberal democratic societies — must always remain a top priority.

Mr. Obama doesn’t see it this way, as evidenced by his decision to get out of Dodge (in this case, Afghanistan) at lightning speed. It’s a terrible strategy and one he should reconsider for the good of the nation and the free world.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.

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